Thursday, October 28, 2010

News from the Heritage Foundation

October 27, 2010 | By Bethany Murphy

Heritage's Plan to Reform Congress

The midterm elections are now exactly a week away. And these elections could transform the way that government in Washington runs.
The Heritage Foundation doesn’t have a dog in any of the election fights. As a non-partisan organization, we are in the unique position of being able to hold members of both parties accountable to uphold conservative values and principles.
Heritage has developed a plan that could help make congressmen more accountable to the people that elected them. If enacted, this Heritage proposal would change what elections cannot: how Congress itself is run. A shakeup of Congress’ internal structure could help newly-elected conservatives get a hearing for their ideas.
We have four major recommendations that both parties should implement before November 15, when new committee members will be chosen.
·         The steering committee, rather than party leaders, should select all committee chairmen and members.
·         Party leaders should no longer dominate or control the steering committee. This would allow rank-and-file Representatives to nominate and elect the controlling votes on each steering committee.
·         Term limits should apply to all House and party leaders, including the Speaker, as well as to committee chairmen and ranking members.
·         A cap should be placed on the overall size of each committee—such as a 50-member maximum—to avoid scenarios where committees wield a disproportionate amount of influence over the House.
“Over the last several decades, legislative branch authority has become overly concentrated into the hands of a few select leaders of the majority party,” Heritage experts Ernest Istook, Matthew Spalding and Michael Franc argue, “rather than the decentralized lawmaking body that is more consistent with its constitutional responsibilities.”
What does this mean? Because Congressional leaders often require that their members to vote in a bloc, lobbyists and members of the executive branch only need to convince a few Congressmen of the merits of the bill before it is voted on. 
Currently, party leaders choose committee chairmen, who have enormous power to shape legislation. Changing the way committee chairmen are chosen is just one important step in reforming the way that Washington operates on a day-to-day basis.
Heritage’s proposal is a useful guide to how the House can be made more responsive to public opinion.  By diluting the authority of party leaders, the reforms could create a less partisan Congress. This, in turn, could allow lawmakers to more easily seek solutions across party lines, as they would be less beholden to party leaders. Bringing fresh faces to Washington may change the appearance of Congress, but structural changes will change Congress’ performance – for the better.

> Other Heritage Work of Note

  • Unions—and particularly teachers unions—are notorious for keeping even bad workers on the payroll.   But while bad teaching may not be a good enough reason to fire a teacher, Heritage’s James Sherk reports, political disagreement is enough reason to fire a union worker.  “Duane Hammond . . . had a job helping build a stage for an upcoming Obama rally in Los Angeles,” writes the Heritage labor expert. “His union fired him because he wore a sweatshirt with the name ‘Bush’ on it.”
  • National Public Radio, a supposedly unbiased company that receives government funding, has come under attack for its recent politically-motivated firing of Juan Williams.  Heritage’s Mike Gonzalez examines this situation and concludes: “They present themselves as an objective media organization, but they’re not.”
  •  “In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they came out by the thousands. They were some of the first on the scene and among the last to leave,” writes James Carafano about the State Defense Forces, groups of state volunteer militia that provide invaluable disaster relief without very much funding.  Because of their low-cost, invaluable assistance, Heritage’s expert on homeland security believes that these forces should be expanded in various states.
  •  “When King George III asked if the colonists could boycott British goods, his solicitor general informed him it was beyond the power of the king to mandate that his subjects buy specific goods like tea,” writes Heritage’s Conn Carroll. Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli compared this to the new mandate to buy health insurance. “The power of the United States government under the Constitution must be smaller than that of King George,” Cuccinelli said.

> In Other News

Bethany Murphy is a writer for—a website for members and supporters of The Heritage Foundation. Nathaniel Ward; Amanda Reinecker and Andrew Vitaliti, a Heritage intern, contributed to this report.

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